Sudan: Aid groups to meet war crimes prosecutor on Darfur

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) - Leading humanitarian aid groups are to meet on Friday with the international prosector investigating war crimes in Darfur, a meeting that has prompted concerns about security for international aid workers as well as local villagers in the troubled Sudanese region.

The agenda for the meeting, called by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in New York, suggests there may be "opportunities ... for cooperation" between the aid groups and International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

But it raised questions about whether the groups could be perceived as compromising their long-cherished reputations for neutrality, which have been central to their ability to work effectively in conflict zones.

"Nobody wants to do anything that will compromise the security of workers on the ground or their ability to do their job," Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International, told Reuters.

"Gathering information for war crimes investigations is not part of our mission," Nancy Aossey, chief executive of California-based International Medical Corps, said in a written statement.

Noting "security for our staff and beneficiaries is totally dependent on how we are perceived in the area," she said she would nevertheless attend, "to share our concerns about the possible impact a war crimes investigation could have on the safety of our staff and the people we are trying to help."

More than 2 million people have fled their homes and thousands have been killed each month in fighting in Darfur.

The Sudanese region has become a test of the effectiveness of the court, established to try persons accused of genocide, war crimes and mass human rights violations.

The U.N. Security Council last year sent its own commission to investigate suspected slaughter, rape and pillaging in Darfur and Secretary General Kofi Annan has turned over the names of 51 suspects to the ICC.

Sudan has said it would refuse to hand over its citizens to be tried abroad and would prosecute alleged criminals itself.

Sudan two weeks ago detained two workers for the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) aid group on charges of publishing false reports after releasing their study: "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur."

MacArthur Foundation organizers acknowledged the sensitivity of Friday's meeting and urged participants to keep it confidential.

A spokesman for the foundation, a major source of funding for charitable groups, could not be reached for comment.

Other invited groups include CARE USA, Save the Children, World Vision, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, Christian Aid, International Committee of the Red Cross, Concern Worldwide USA, International Rescue Committee and Catholic Relief Services


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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